Idle games are one of the most surprising break-out niches of the last few years, although the genre’s name is something of a misnomer. For the first while, these games are typically anything but idle, as you frantically click until you reach a point where the game starts to play itself. Now, Placid Plastic Duck Simulator truly is an idle game: you do absolutely nothing, but watch some plastic ducks float in a pool. And I’m here to tell you it’s one of the most highly rated games on Steam.
As first reported by the excellent GameDiscoverCo newsletter, PPDS’s popularity on Steam isn’t a sudden spike. It is, to be more reasonable, a succession of spikes since its original release in July this year. Since then, the barely interactive game has received over 3,500 “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews on Steam, currently registering at the almost unheard of 98% positive ratings. And why? Um...
On one level, this genuinely is nothing other than watching rubber duckies floating in a blandly rendered backyard pool. At first you have one yellow duck, but as an on-screen duck-o-meter fills, new ducks fall from the sky. These come with their own designs, perhaps sporting a headband or a top hat and pipe, or they may be cleverly disguised as a sprinkled donut.
Your interaction is limited to awkwardly moving the camera around, pivoted on a selected ducky. The view gently bobs up and down with the water, while serene background noises of birds chirping and wind blowing soundtrack the banality. (Or you can turn the awful music on, which you shouldn’t.)
The thing is, far more effort has been put into it than it deserves, and as much as I was ready to roll my eyes and switch off, it’s been running on my desktop for a couple of hours now. There’s a day/night cycle, with features of the two-level pool lighting up at night, and the natural soundtrack shifting to cicadas. Out beyond the pool is the ocean, and if you watch you might see a pod of dolphin swim past. Oh, and of course there’s DLC that adds more patterns on the ever-growing number of ducks.
This was all created by Italian developers Tunnel Vision Studio as a silly break from developing their proper game, open-world survival sim Starsand. It was part of an internal game jam at the studio, GameDiscoverCo reports, for which they did “zero marketing.” Due to some attention from some big Japanese and Korean Twitter accounts, and then a few weeks ago from 2.75 million-subscriber YouTube account RTGame, it keeps catching people’s attention and imagination.
That it only costs $2 is likely a big part of its review success. It’s hard to begrudge something so sweetly stupid when it costs so little, and as much as I want to be cynical, I can’t stop checking back in to see which ducks have arrived, and I became inexplicably excited when a small plane flew over that one time. Also, one time, for reasons I don’t understand, one of my ducks escaped via a propeller on its head and floated out to sea.
The duckies genuinely have different behaviors, even if that really amounts to floating about slightly differently. I wonder if simply sparing the player of almost absolutely everything about a game makes the tiny elements that remain feel so much more significant. Either way, I find I just can’t argue with the reviews it’s getting. It’s ridiculous, and it deserves that 98% positivity that’s usually reserved for the likes of Half-Life 2 or Stardew Valley.
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